Coarse-ground mustard is poured into a saucepan. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

While I regularly buy tender, young mustard leaves when they are mixed into bags of local salad greens, I have yet to come across Maine-made mustard seeds.

Yes, of course, Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow and Fedco Seeds in Clinton sell them to gardeners. And if those with greener thumbs than mine cultivate mustard greens until they bolt in the fall, they indeed could have their own little stash of Maine mustard seeds, as a single, healthy mustard plant can produce as many as 240 (about ¼ cup) mustard seeds.

But the ones I buy in bulk for culinary purposes from the health food store for about $20 per pound likely came from Canada, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon or Washington – the places in North America that produce the most mustard seeds.

Since my mustard seeds come from away, I treat them as special guests in my kitchen. This holiday season, I’m treating them to a soak in a boozy bath, a whirlpool in the blender, and 15 minutes in a hot water bath. They are the main ingredient in jars of prepared mustard I will give to many of the folks on my holiday list.

Coarse country mustard, rear, and honey mustard, front, in mason jars. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

For my elegant friend, Elizabeth, I’ve made creamy champagne and tarragon mustard. For my daughter, Eliza, there will be honey mustard for the home-made chicken fingers she still loves as a 21-year-old. For my husband, Andy, there will be a grainy spread that includes his favorite local ale. No, I am not spending crazypants amount of time or money making these small batches of bespoke mustard. The process is simply that easy.

Making mustard dates to Roman times when cooks combined ground seeds with must – an unfermented grape juice – to make a lively paste with a Latin name that translates to “burning must.”

Advertisement

Mustard seeds come in several varieties. Yellow ones (also called white mustard seeds) are the mildest, while brown (in shorter supply worldwide due to droughts in Canada and the Russian war in Ukraine) and black seeds (the easiest to grow) are hotter and more pungent. Neither whole nor ground mustard seeds have a kick on their own, though. Either must be combined with liquid for the pungency to become apparent to human tastebuds.

The acidity and temperature of the liquid influences the strength of the mustard that gets put in the jar. The more acidic the liquid is, the slower the pace at which the pungency of the mustard seeds will be released. Mustards made with water are extremely pungent when freshly prepared, but that heat doesn’t have much staying power. Mustard made with vinegar will have a slower burn up front but continue to offer the flavor as it sits on the refrigerator door shelf. Hot liquids break down the pungent enzymes in the seeds, while cold ones keep them intact.

The basic process for making four small jars of mustard goes like this. Combine 3/4 cups of seeds in one cup of beer, wine or sherry in a nonreactive pan and let them get to know each other overnight. Then add a 1/2 cup of vinegar, 1/4 cup of sugar, maple syrup or honey, and a teaspoon of salt. From that base combination, add 1/4 cup (total) of any herbs and spices you like (garlic and onion powder for a spicy brown, tarragon for a French twist, turmeric if you’re shooting for a bright yellow hue like French’s Mustard has) and process them all together in the blender.

As a spice wimp myself, I then tend to cook the mixture over a low simmer for about 10 minutes to ward off some of the heat. In the odd instance when I feel my condiment in the making needs more heat, I stir in more mustard powder before placing them in clean jars and processing them in a canning water bath for 15 minutes.

Mustard made with just water and mustard seeds can sit on your counter; it will dry out before it goes off because of mustard seeds’ antimicrobial properties. But as soon as you add other ingredients to the pot, it’s best to store the mustard in the refrigerator or process the jars to be shelf stable. It’s also important to know that just-made mustard will always have a bitter aftertaste, but that fades after one night sitting in the refrigerator.

Chicken thighs in creamy mustard sauce. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Chicken Thighs with Creamy Mustard Sauce

Advertisement

Serves 2

4 bone-in or boneless and skin-on chicken thighs
Kosher salt
Black pepper
2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup dry white wine
2 heaping tablespoons grainy mustard
1 small bunch lacinato kale, ribs removed and composted, leaves torn into bite-sized pieces
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups cooked rice or whole grains (for serving)

Season chicken with salt and pepper on both sides.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Brown chicken thighs on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Remove chicken and set aside.

Add another tablespoon of olive oil and onion to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion becomes translucent, about 3 minutes.

Whisk in white wine and mustard, scraping up the browned bits from the pan. Reduce heat to low. Add cream and then the kale. Cook until the kale begins to wilt, about 3 minutes.

Return chicken to the pan. Cover and simmer gently until the chicken is fully cooked, about 4 minutes more.

Serve hot with rice or cooked whole grains.

Local foods advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is the editor of Edible Maine magazine and the author of “Green Plate Special,” both a column about eating sustainably in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her 2017 cookbook. She can be contacted at: [email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.